In today’s job market, liberal arts degrees aren’t exactly the surest path towards gainful employment. In an ever-changing and tech-centric world, recruiters often prefer specialized degrees when selecting top talent. There’s been a consequent decline in the popularity of studying the humanities.
But the pendulum is swinging back towards liberal arts these days, and design thinking might have something to do with it.
It’s no wonder. Design thinking and the humanities have a thing or two in common. Studying the arts requires creativity, critical-thinking and insight. As noted by the Liberal Arts College Review, liberal arts colleges have smaller classroom sizes, in which original thought and unbridled creativity are encouraged. Boasting smaller student bodies, these colleges allow for intimate learning environments that foster dynamic discussion, brainstorming and collaborative projects.
In the past decade, liberal arts degrees lost clout as more students focused on targeted career-paths in an increasingly entrepreneurial market. Liberal arts needed a pivot point to become relevant again.
Life through the lens of design
According to Inside Higher Ed, that pivot is design thinking. “Only by more richly integrating the norms and practices of liberal arts colleges might design thinking reach its greatest potential and deliver its highest benefit to society,” write Jeffrey Nesteruk and Joel W. Martin, co-professors at Franklin & Marshall College, where they teach a course called “Claiming the Future”.
These professors are using design thinking to encourage their students to think differently. Their syllabus is crafted to make design thinking useful to the inquisitive dispositions of liberal arts students. The course requires students to tackle an academic question through the lens of design: What meaning and value does your liberal arts education hold for the work and life you hope for? They use reading, research and group work to solve the problem.
This question leads to a semester-long project that challenges students to rethink their world. The project has led to many inspiring initiatives, ranging from a rooftop garden in a hospital to an app that determines which supermarket foods have the smallest greenhouse-gas footprint. The course demands that students be more engaged and hands-on in their degrees; it teaches them to showcase skills that will make them stand out in the job market.
Recruiters may be quick to dismiss liberal arts graduates for those trained in STEM and business. But when liberal arts grads couch their education in the language of innovation and design thinking, they can shine in any pool of candidates.
Interested in Design Thinking and education? Check out our post on The Case for Design Thinking in the Classroom.
Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.